Situated on the west bank of the Tiber, just across from the city centre, the Vatican City was established as a sovereign state in 1929, a tiny territory surrounded by high walls on its far western side and on the near side opening its doors to the rest of the city and its pilgrims in the form of St Peter’s and its colonnaded piazza. The city-state’s one thousand inhabitants have their own radio station, daily newspaper, postal service and indeed security service in the colourfully dressed Swiss Guards. It’s believed that St Peter was buried in a pagan cemetery on the Vatican hill, giving rise to the building of a basilica to venerate his name and the siting of the headquarters of the Catholic Church here. Stretching north from St Peter’s, the Renaissance papal palaces are now home to the Vatican Museums – quite simply, the largest, most compelling and perhaps most exhausting museum complex in the world.

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